Staring at another birthday, I feel a wave of cozy comfort in my own skin.
“I got this,” I think.
“I finally got the hang of this crazy little thing called life. I’m in the juicy part of the ‘getting older’ story that everyone talks about; I know who I am and what I want, I say what I mean and mean what I say and, to quote Nina Simone, ‘I’m Feelin’ Good!’”
And then—I’m diagnosed with cancer.
(Insert laugh track here.)
What the heck kind of bad 80s “Saturday Night Live” skit is this from?
I was that “wild and crazy girl;” I felt like life was just starting to swing, and now—I’m about to be swung off the planet? What?!
Not so fast there, buddy, I think. I’m not ready for my exit bow just yet!
So, I do what any sane person would do when faced with such a diagnosis; I grab my boxing gloves and I start fighting. (Cue: theme from “Rocky.”)
Or, do I?
Nope, no fighting. Instead, I’m flowing.
Yes, you heard me, and don’t give me that side-eye. I said flowing. Sure, I know it sounds like some new age-y om-shanti-namaste-the-heck-away-from-you type stuff, but hear me out.
Flowing, in this context, basically means that I’m going with the journey, not against.
Picture this: I’m riding cancer like a pro surfer on a choppy sea. I’m on my board—“Surf’s up, Gidget!”—and I’m staying there, tsunami be damned.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not giving up, not retreating; there is no white flag here. I’m not going to succumb to some pesky little disease. It is not my time yet. I’m just accepting what is happening and working with it, not against it. There is a difference.
Do I sound nuts? Maybe so. Or maybe not. Who’s to say how one reacts when given a nasty diagnosis. We all know there are a million ways to skin a cat. Fortunately, we all get to choose how we’d like to go at it.
Here are a few options:
1. Scream your head off, get mad, and blame your ex—my personal favorite. This is tempting (and he probably deserves it), but not helpful.
2. Be totally in denial: This is not happening. I am going to wake up and I’ll realize this has all been a whacked nightmare. Okay, somebody order a reality check on Amazon. I have Prime.
3. Take a deep breath and accept it.
And I chose (drumroll)…number three!
Okay—I lie. I did a few versions of the first two for a little bit and then fell right into a more realistic acceptance. Okay, maybe not fell, more like dragged myself to it. Screaming. Crying. It was messy. And then, there was this blue sky, a nice spring day breeze, and a cloud of clarity.
Listen, I’m not happy at all about this diagnosis, but if anyone’s going to win the Sydney Hobart of cancer, it’s going to be me.
Ah, you’re still reading, you must have Googled that. That’s good! Let’s go further.
What does flowing look like, you ask? First, it involves commitment. Once you’re in, you’re in. I made a decision. I am not panicking, flailing, planning my funeral, and crying my eyes out (not all the time, anyway). Rather, I am centered, informed, and focused.
I have top doctors and advisors on my team as well as great support from loving friends and family. I meditate, I pray, I speak with healing words, and I dig my feet into the earth. I am determined to spend as much of my day living in confidence that all is well and will continue to be well. Rinse and repeat. Boom.
This “going with the flow” of my diagnosis has not only extended to my illness, but it has also seeped into every nook of my life. I have become a calm observer of myself, so when I start to feel any stress knocking on my door, I address it. I’m not griping about the small stuff, not letting my life become the latest Netflix must-see drama, and I turn off the news (I give you permission to do so too) when it all just becomes too much, which it does, well, pretty much every day.
I can tell you that this approach allows me to listen to what this experience has to teach me. I’m learning heaps. I’ve spent more than a year at Carcinoma University so far. I’m choosing the two-year program, and then I plan on graduating with honors. I have great teachers and so far, my grades are very good.
Illness can be transformative if you allow it.
Flow. If I fight it, I get angry and resentful. Flow. If I don’t, I snap at my daughter, the dog, the day. And, in turn, all that negative emotion floods my system with bad juju and potentially more disease. Flow means I face it bravely. It’s like flicking a switch. Flow. I can choose to go down with the ship or sail like Popeye.
Listen, I am what I am, this is not a perfect plan. I allow myself multiple times in the day to feel every bit of fear and sadness, but I always try to navigate back to the lighthouse.
So, with my major in Ass Kickery at CU (later), here is what I’m learning thus far:
Lesson 1: Honor thy body, self-care, and the body-mind-spirit connection. Get in touch with your badass within, be brave, and Google stuff and learn—but don’t overdo the Googling, and certainly don’t do it late at night. I have expanded my vocabulary tenfold with words like nephrectomy, immunotherapy, and urothelial papillary carcinoma. I’m awesome fun at dinner parties now!
Lesson 2: Find joy. If you are feeling stressed, angry, or stuck, find your way the heck out. Get help, go for a walk, meditate, spend time with friends and family, play Yahtzee, watch “Blazing Saddles,” inhale some helium, and laugh your socks off. It truly is the best and cheapest medicine. Health insurance not required.